Induced plant accumulation of lithium
Cabellos, Guiomar Garcia
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Lithium’s (Li) value has grown exponentially since the development of Li-ion batteries. It is usually accessed in one of two ways: hard rock mineral mining or extraction from mineral-rich brines. Both methods are expensive and require a rich source of Li. This paper examines the potential of agro-mining as an environmentally friendly, economically viable process for extracting Li from low grade ore. Agro-mining exploits an ability found in few plant species, to accumulate substantial amounts of metals in the above ground parts of the plant. Phyto-mined metals are then retrieved from the incinerated plants. Although the actual amount of metal collected from a crop may be low, the process has been shown to be profitable. We have investigated the suitability of several plant species including: Brassica napus and Helianthus annuus, as Li-accumulators under controlled conditions. Large plant trials were carried out with/without chelating agents to encourage Li accumulation. The question we sought to answer was, can any of the plant species investigated accumulate Li at levels high enough to justify using them to agro-mine Li. Results show maximum accumulated levels of >4000 mg/kg Li in some species. Our data suggests that agro-mining of Li is a potentially viable process.
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